Summary: God has always been reserving, saving and preserving a "remnant"; an understanding of the words used in Scripture are helpful in understanding how God works in salvation. An understanding of God's Choice helps those who are saved to see how God SAVED.
“Saved by God’s Grace Alone”
Last week we looked at some excuses that Israel used in rejecting God’s Righteousness by faith, but we ended with the picture of the outstretched hands of our Merciful God, longing for His people, and ALL PEOPLE to come to Him in Romans 10:21: "ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE."
With that picture of our compassionate God in mind, Paul continues in Romans 11:1: “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? (Has God pushed away or separated Israel with those same hands of mercy and grace?) May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. (God saw and knew before all time and eternity those whom He would save, but we sure don’t know who they are: We are still supposed to equip ourselves with the Gospel of God’s Peace!)
(Paul gives another Old Testament example:) “Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?
3 "Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE." 4 But what is the divine response to him (Elijah)? "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL."
Paul quotes from 1 Kings 19:18 (the same story was in the “Today” devotional yesterday): “Yet I will leave (SPARE) 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (Elijah didn’t think there was ANYONE left who wanted to live for God and follow Him. Do you ever feel that way? It’s not unusual to FEEL that way sometimes because we live in a world where many DO NOT want to come God! But we continue to witness because WE DON’T know who WILL come to Him.)
A small part of Israel
Paul wants Israelites to know that in spite of their horrible track record of disobedience and obstinance as a nation, God is still willing and able to forgive; God is able and PAUL IS the living proof that God’s Hands are STILL stretched out with love and grace to save ANYONE, including Israelites who believes His promises and come to HIM in faith. Paul says: “If Israelites were excluded, then I would have been excluded, too.”
Remember that Israelites had the notion that God saved them because of THEIR good works and their heritage, and Paul brings up the story of Elijah to remind us and them that in the past, ALL OF ISRAEL was NOT saved. When Elijah’s life was threatened by Jezebel in 1 Kings 19, Elijah felt like he was the only one left in Israel who had resisted Baal worship: and God says: “No, you aren’t the only one; I have SPARED a total of 7,000 that you are not even aware of!”
God Always Knows and Saves ALL those whom He foreknew, the ones He “spares”. Sometimes it seems that nobody is left, and it LOOKS worse than it actually is. There may have been between 1.5 to 2.5 million Jews at the time mentioned in 1 Kings, but the full and complete number which God had chosen, the 7,000, a perfect number, had been saved and spared by God so that they did not bow to Baal.
Remember that during the time of Noah, God waited patiently, as He provided safety in the ark for only 8 survivors (perfection plus 1); the rest of the earth perished, but a few were saved. In Acts 15:15, James proclaims: "With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 'AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,' 18 SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.”
Paul gives a past example first, and then talks about the “now” in Romans 11:5: “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a REMNANT according to God's gracious choice. (God’s act of choosing by HIS free will. Actually the translation could be, “according to God’s choice of grace.”) 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
God is saving a Remnant NOW
In the past, God always preserved a small part of Israel and a small part of mankind; now Paul explains how God is saving and preserving a “remnant” at the present time.